An Interview with Damien Angelica Walters:
Taming the Paper Tigers
Dark House Press will release Damien Angelica Walters‘ new novel, Paper Tigers, on February 29. An author’s life is always extra hectic when a new release is close, so we at Cemetery Dance Online were glad to snag a few minutes with Walters to talk about her latest book and her approach to the craft of writing. We invite you to spend some time with Walters today, and check back on February 22 for an exclusive excerpt of Paper Tigers.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: What experiences and stories influenced your new novel, Paper Tigers?
DAMIEN ANGELICA WALTERS: Several months before I started writing Paper Tigers, I wrote a poem, unrelated to the novel, that contained the line “I stay still and silent as your words take shape and form – a paper tiger to swallow me whole.” That last bit stuck with me, and the story grew from there.
With respect to Alison’s scarring, I mined my own experiences. I have a large scar on the side of my neck from a childhood operation to remove a benign tumor, and over the years, people have stared at the scar, or made a point to not look, or suggested I cover it up. Due to the size of the tumor and the damage the removal left behind, the scar looks more like that of a burn than from surgery. Although I was incredibly self-conscious about it when I was younger, I wasn’t emotionally devastated, but it did give me a starting point into Alison’s character.
How long have you been at work on the novel? How much has changed between the first draft and the finished work?
I wrote the first draft in 2010 and it was, in a word, ugly. I put it aside for a while, gutted most of it and did a rewrite, put it aside again, made a few more edits. Rinse, repeat. When my agent narrowed her focus to MG/YA and we parted ways, I planned to trunk the manuscript. I’m fairly merciless about trunking work, but there was something about this one that I couldn’t let go. So I went through it yet again and cut eleven thousand words. Honestly, I think I was upset at losing my agent and took it out on the manuscript, but the story ended up much better for it.
When Richard Thomas of Dark House Press purchased a story from me for an anthology he was editing, Paper Tigers came up in the conversation and he asked to see it. The rest, as they say, is history.
With respect to what changed over the course of the edits, the only things that remain from that first draft are the opening scene and the final line. I didn’t know how to tell the story when I first wrote it, but I also think I had to write it wrong to get it right.
You’ve described Paper Tigers as a ghost story – do you have any favorite ghost stories you would recommend to readers?
You can’t go wrong with The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, The Shining by Stephen King, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and Ghost Story by Peter Straub. With respect to short fiction, I highly recommend “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link.
Do you have a preference between writing short stories or novel-length material?
I enjoy writing both. The short form lends itself more to experimentation with genre and form and voice, but novels allow you to get deeper into a character’s head and see their world in a larger scope.
How does your approach differ when it comes to writing novels versus short stories?
It doesn’t really. No matter what I’m writing, I’ll get an idea, brainstorm a bit, and then start writing. Stories and novels do, however, require a different set of tools, a different sort of focus, and my daily word count is typically higher when I’m working on a novel.
Do you outline, or just go along and let the story unfold as you write it?
I let the story unfold as I write it, but most of the time, I have a general feeling of where it’s going. I may not know all the twists and turns it will take to get there, but I have a sense of the ending and something to write toward. I never set the ending in stone, though; sometimes it changes as the story progresses and some of my strongest stories have endings that took me by surprise.
If you had to pick one story to show people what to expect from your work, which one would you choose and why?
I would direct them to “The Hands That Hold, the Lies That Bind,” published here in Cemetery Dance Online. I think it captures the general feel of most of my work—a little unsettling with an emotional core and a fractious relationship, in this story’s case, familial.
What else does 2016 hold for Damien Angelica Walters? I have short fiction forthcoming in several magazines and anthologies, including Black Static, Autumn Cthulhu, Chiral Mad 3, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2016. I also have quite a few solicited stories due to editors at varying points in the year, and I’m also working on a new, as yet untitled, novel.